PERSPECTIVE
If it could happen to Arun Shourie, imagine what could they do to you?
- S Pal
If it could happen to Arun Shourie, imagine what could they do to you?



A FORMER UNION MINISTER and celebrated journalist was told that his Parkinson’s-afflicted wife who could not even sit properly due to her medical condition was a proclaimed absconder, non-bailable arrest warrants were issued against her, she was accused of evading summons five times and, eventually, it took them six years and innumerable hearings before she was acquitted.

The Union Minister was Arun Shourie. 

His wife Anita suffers from Parkinson's disease, a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, and at one stage during the trial, her health was so precarious that she was dependent on blood-thinning medicines, and even a single fall from a step or a strike against a door could trigger heavy internal bleeding difficult to arrest because she was on blood-thinning medicines.   

But what were the Shouries accused of?

Anita Shourie was an accused in FIR Case No. 363/09 and ostensibly guilty of violating the Environment Protection Act, and the Special Environment Court of First Class Judicial Magistrate in Faridabad declared her a PO under section 82 of Criminal Procedure Code of India.
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"Agar kal subhey nau baje voh court mein pesh naa hui to paanch saal qaid," a police constable told Arun Shourie to his face at his doorstep one fine day in August 2013. 
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After inferring that Anita Shourie, who remained confined to her room at the given West End, New Delhi address of the Shouries, was refusing to honour summons, the court order said the "accused cannot be found and therefore, it has been shown in (sic) my satisfaction that the said absconded or is concealing himself (sic) to avoid the service of the said warrant."

"Agar kal subhey nau baje voh court mein pesh naa hui to paanch saal qaid," a police constable told Arun Shourie to his face at his doorstep one fine day in August 2013. 

Shourie, once the editor-in-chief of The Indian Express and one of India's most well known journalists and thinkers, reached out to Shekhar Gupta, the then editor-in-chief of The Indian Express and a friend of Shourie, to seek advice and help.

Fali K Nariman, Justice (retd) A P Shah and Justice (retd) R M Lodha releasing the book


But what was it precisely that Anita Shourie had done to invite the wrath of the law, and become a proclaimed absconder from law?

She was told she had built a house on a plot of land, when, in fact, she did not own the plot and had not laid even a loose brick on that piece of land. In Arun Shourie's words, Anita suffered "for a house we never built on a plot we did not own."

Shouries had bought plot F-35 in Aravali Retreat but when they needed money to build a house near Pune, they sold that piece of land. "We had not so much as put down a loose brick on the plot," the former Union Minister wrote in his latest book 'Anita Gets Bail' in which he described not only his own travails but the utterly dilapidated state of the judicial system of the country in which millions face a bleak prospect of receiving justice.
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She was told she had built a house on a plot of land, when, in fact, she did not own the plot and had not laid even a loose brick on that piece of land. In Arun Shourie's words, Anita suffered "for a house we never built on a plot we did not own."
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Arun Shourie was repeatedly made to ensure the presence of his seriously unwell wife who had to be physically lifted, put in the car, made to suffer a great deal of pain and hardship, could not even stand by herself and whose "unsteady, shuffling and short steps typical of a Parkinson's patient" could move lesser mortals to tears if they were to know she was not in her room because our laws are stupid and some in the seat of justice are simply apathetic robots.

But hauling her to the court was necessary apparently because an accused has to be "produced" before a judge to seek personal exemption on grounds of severe physical pain and not being well!

That was on September 2, 2013. On October 4, 2013, the entire cycle was repeated, and Anita was taken to court again, only to find that the case had already been heard on an earlier date, and she was asked to appear again on November 15, 2013.

By then a new judge had taken over, and Anita Shourie had suffered a bout of pulmonary embolism (in which clots are formed and travel to lungs), been through an ICU and put on blood-thinning medicines. Her life was on the edge, but a court date stared in the face.

On November 15, Arun Shourie made it to the Faridabad court, 40 kms from his house. "A new judge had taken charge," Arun Shourie writes, while a court order on that day said "both the parties requested adjournment (because) advocates are busy in Bar Election."

He must have been taken by surprise. "I am opposed to adjournments being granted, I am unlikely to have requested for an adjournment," he writes.
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Arun Shourie was repeatedly made to ensure the presence of his seriously unwell wife who had to be physically lifted, put in the car, made to suffer a great deal of pain and hardship, could not even stand by herself and whose "unsteady, shuffling and short steps typical of a Parkinson's patient" could move lesser mortals to tears if they were to know she was not in her room because our laws are stupid and some in the seat of justice are simply apathetic robots.
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However, since the Punjab and Haryana High Court had ruled that the case be disposed of 'as expeditiously as possible, including day-to-day trial', the judge fixed January 7, 2014 as the day for 'pre-charge evidence,' but when he reached the court on the said date, he found the judge had already taken up the case on January 6 itself because, in the judge's own words as reflected in the record of proceedings for January 6, "Case taken up today as I shall be on a Haliday (sic) on 7-1-2014. Case is adjourned to 28-2-14."

"Mysteriously, the case was again 'taken up' – not on February 28, the date that had been fixed, but a week earlier," Arun Shourie writes. Reason: the judge was to proceed on leave on February 28th, a date he himself had affixed to hear pre-charge evidence.

Arun Shourie with his wheelchair-bound son Aditya at the book release. Read 'Does He Know A Mother's Heart?" for a deeper insight into the author's approach towards parenting, suffering & life.

 
By now, yet another judge had assumed the chair, the fourth in the case and the third before whom Shouries were appearing.

"We had to take Anita again to the court – the bail could not be given, you will recall, nor appearance in person be waived unless the person was physically present."

This, when the sole reason for seeking exemption was that the person could not be physically present owing to her physical state of health!

Read Arun Shourie's heart-wrenching words to know what happened next. "So, when her name was called, I insisted on taking her – leaning to one side, with short, stumbling steps – right upto the bar of the judge's platform...Holding her firmly, I pulled and shoved her right up to the bar. The judge granted exemption from personal appearance."

"Taking her back to the chair, in fury, raising my voice so that all could hear me, I blurted out, 'I hope the majesty of the law has now been upheld.'"
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"Leaning to one side, with short, stumbling steps … Holding her firmly, I pulled and shoved her right up to the bar. The judge granted exemption from personal appearance…in fury, raising my voice so that all could hear me, I blurted out, 'I hope the majesty of the law has now been upheld.'"
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This was on April 15, 2014, and the purpose was the same: pre-charge evidence. Next date: May 12, 2014. On May 12, 2014, the judge recorded: "Adjournment sought. Heard. Now to come up on 26.5.2014 for remaining pre-charge evidence of complainant."

On May 26, 2014, the judge recorded: "Adjournment sought. Heard. Now to come up on 11.7.2014 for pre-charge evidence of complainant."

On July 11, 2014, the judge recorded: "Adjournment sought. Heard. Now to come up on 25.8.2014 for remaining pre-charge evidence of complainant."

The readers will be well served if they are spared further micro-details. The facts were simple: the Shouries had bought a plot, not even laid a brick there, and had then sold it. They received pro-forma notices from the Haryana State Pollution Control Board asking them why they have "constructed a farm house/residence/establishment on a ghair-mumkin pahar in gross violation of Aravali Notification" when, in fact, they had not done any construction. They would regularly reply that "we have built nothing at all on the plot" and would always offer to come over and explain and furnish any further proof or clarification. On March 27, 2008, they sold the plot because they needed the money to construct a house at Pune. (It was registered in Anita's name only on October 31, 2007.)

When he continued receiving similar notices, Arun Shourie got in touch with the head of the Haryana State Pollution Control Board and sent all details to concerned officers. That was in January 2009. Similar notices kept dropping in even in July 2014.

When on August 26, 2013, Arun Shourie had appeared in the court in Faridabad for the first time and asked why non-bailable warrants were issued and how he or his wife had never received any summons earlier and that they would not have dodged summons, the woman judge had explained, "Yes, sometimes, it happens. Our people don't actually take the trouble of going to serve the summons and just write that the summons could not be served."

The case continued well into 2015.

Shourie appeared in court on September 5, 2014, then October 13, 2014, November 17, 2014, November 25, 2014, December 16, 2014, January 16, 2015 and March 2, 2015. In Anita Gets Bail, he gives painful accounts of each day and each hearing when nothing moved.

In his twelve and a half page judgement, the judge wrote: "All the accused have been acquitted of the charges levelled against them...File be consigned to the record room after due compliance."
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Arun Shourie describes a chance encounter with a couple of judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, one of whom asked him, "Why didn't you come to us? We would have given immediate relief."
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Lest you think you have understood the ugly picture of India's justice-dispensing system, allow Arun Shourie to elaborate upon it a little more: "(P)lease remember, for each of the accused, each step involved many, many others. You are going to stand surety so that your wife may get bail? You must get proof of address, a statement from your bank of your current balance, a statement of your assets ... What did you say your wife has? Not enough that you have the medical history of her Parkinson's from 1992; you must have a current certificate...Not enough that you have the discharge summary from Ganga Ram Hospital for the pulmonary embolism that nearly took her life. You must have a certificate from a doctor in a government hospital."

IF THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU...

Arun Shourie describes a chance encounter with a couple of judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, one of whom asked him, "Why didn't you come to us? We would have given immediate relief."

We leave you to discover Arun Shourie's explanation on your own. His book Anita Gets Bail is in the book stores now. But we are now about to address the one question that we are sure is bothering you: "If this can happen to Arun Shourie, imagine what a common man has to go through?"

In fact, Shourie has dealt with this aspect in detail, and that is exactly the purpose of his book. Of course, being an intrinsically sensitive human being as those of you who have known about his work and writings, particularly his book Does He Know A Mother's Heart?, would know, Shourie answers the question.

"For in the hours that I spent in the court, I saw first-hand what others were going through. Hundreds milling around for hours, only to learn that yet another date had been fixed. 'Idhar lagaao, idhar,' someone would take the thumb of an elderly man, of a lady, her face covered by a ghunghat, and press it down on some paper. Did the old man or lady knew what they were affixing their thumb impression to?"

As Shourie writes elsewhere in his book about our judicial system, today vulgarity has become a right, mediocrity has become the norm, standards are derided as a conspiracy to keep the poor down, ignorance of facts becomes a ground for sticking to an unfounded opinion, intimidation has become argument and assault is proof. 
  
Another book by Arun Shourie dealing with India's judicial system. 
 
"As I sat in the Faridabad court, I often asked myself: here are 700-odd individuals being prosecuted; many of them must be in the same position as us—they too may not have laid a brick; on the other hand, the real problem—illegal mining—is going on in broad daylight; why does the judge not leave his room for a day and just make a surprise inspection of the site?"

He makes out a case for journalists to, instead of devoting valuable reportage to the higher judiciary, spend a day every month in a randomly selected lower court.

That's where India fights for justice. You need to be part of that fight to get the justice dispensing system right, because, otherwise, if it could happen to Arun Shourie, imagine...!!!
 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

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